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Bette Midler defends her social posts criticized as 'transphobic'

"They don’t call us ‘women’ anymore; they call us ‘birthing people’ or ‘menstruators’, and even ‘people with vaginas’!" the 76-year-old actor tweeted.
Bette Midler attends the Tony Awards on June 11, 2017, in New York.
Bette Midler attends the Tony Awards on June 11, 2017, in New York.Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images file

Actor Bette Midler this week defended recent comments about women's rights that many LGBTQ activists have slammed as transphobic.

On Monday, Midler tweeted: “WOMEN OF THE WORLD! We are being stripped of our rights over our bodies, our lives and even of our name!

“They don’t call us ‘women’ anymore; they call us ‘birthing people’ or ‘menstruators’, and even ‘people with vaginas’!” she continued. “Don’t let them erase you! Every human on earth owes you!”

Midler's tweet accrued over 100,000 likes. Simultaneously, the online backlash was swift and pointed.

“what is it about ‘womanhood’ that TERFs like macy gray and bette midler are so desperate to cling to?” writer Arielle Tschinkel tweeted Monday, using an acronym for transgender-exclusionary radical feminist. “trans women existing doesn’t make me any less of a woman, no matter how different our experiences may be. it’s just ridiculous at its core honestly.”

"Bette Midler being a TERF despite getting her start playing at gay bathhouses is a reminder that being progressive is like doing the dishes," queer artist Ro Salarian tweeted Tuesday. "You’re never really *done* with it. There’s gonna be new dishes to do tomorrow and you have to keep doing them every day."

Actor Lynda Carter, who is best known for her role as the star of the 1975 television series “Wonder Woman,” also appeared to criticize Midler's remarks, without naming names.

“I cannot think of anything that helps women’s rights less than pinning the blame on trans women,” Carter tweeted Tuesday. “They face so much violence and scrutiny as is. Leave them alone and focus on the real war on women. It’s happening in the courts and legislatures around this country.”

Midler defended her remarks Tuesday, saying they were in response to a "fascinating and well written" op-ed published Sunday in The New York Times. The piece Midler referred to — which was written by opinion columnist Pamela Paul and titled "The Far Right and Far Left Agree on One Thing: Women Don’t Count" — said the "fringe left" is erasing cisgender women by, among other things, using gender-neutral language when defending abortion rights. Activism over abortions has been amplified in recent weeks following the Supreme Court's decision last month to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark court ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.

"There was no intention of anything exclusionary or transphobic in what I said;  it wasn’t about that," Midler tweeted.

"I’ve fought for marginalized people for as long as I can remember," she said in a separate tweet. "Still, if you want to dismiss my 60 years of proven love and concern over a tweet that accidentally angered the very people I have always supported and adored, so be it."

Singer Macy Gray also sparked controversy this week during an appearance on Fox Nation's "Piers Morgan Uncensored," where she criticized transgender athletes.

“I will say this and everyone’s going to hate me, but as a woman, just because you go change your [body] parts, doesn’t make you a woman, sorry,” Gray said.

“Being a little girl is a whole epic book, you know? And you can’t have that just because you want to be a woman,” she added. “I don’t think you should be labeled transphobic just because you don’t agree.”

Among the record number of anti-LGBTQ bills filed in recent years — over 670 since 2018, according to an NBC News analysis — measures that would limit trans people’s participation in sports have been among the most popular and politically contentious in the nation’s state legislatures. Eighteen states have enacted such bills into law in recent years, with Louisiana doing so last month.

Proponents of transgender sports bans say they are protecting fairness in women’s sports, arguing that trans girls and women have inherent advantages over cisgender girls and women. Critics say the measures are less about protecting women’s sports and more about discriminating against trans people.

A representative for Gray did not respond to NBC News’ request for further comment.

Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD, slammed Midler's and Gray's comments and called for unity within the abortion-rights movement.

“From Pamela Paul in the opinion pages of @nytimes to right-wing activists including Jordan Peterson to notables like Bette Midler and Macy Gray, the recent anti-transgender rhetoric in the media and online is contributing to the dangerous and completely inaccurate narrative that trans people are somehow threatening the overall rights of cisgender women,” she tweeted Tuesday. “Women and trans people are in a common fight for bodily autonomy and the right to privacy.”

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